Most people would tell you that Brussels sprouts are healthy. But if you were to ask them exactly how the cruciferous vegetable benefits the body, they may answer with a halfhearted shrug. All vegetables are healthy, but what makes Brussels sprouts special — different from, say, garlic or cauliflower?
In a word: plenty. There’s a reason why registered dietitians, nutritionists and other health experts wish more people would cook Brussels sprouts beyond just a holiday side dish. If you’re skeptical that Brussels sprouts are really worth the hype, the health benefits our pros share here may change your mind. And if it’s the taste that’s holding you back — you just aren’t sure how to make them flavorful and delicious — check out the cooking tips too.
What are Brussels sprouts, and what should I look for when buying them?
Before getting into the health benefits of Brussels sprouts, it’s helpful to know what they are (besides, you know, a vegetable) — and what to look for when buying them. “The larger ‘umbrella’ family that Brussels sprouts falls under is cruciferous vegetables, and the more specific family under the cruciferous category is Brassica oleracea,” explains registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD. Other types of Brassica oleracea vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens and kale.
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“Although Brussels sprouts were named after they became popular in Belgium, they actually originated in the Mediterranean,” says Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab Deputy Director Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN.
Sassos says that here in the U.S., Brussels sprouts are in season during the fall and winter months. This is when they’re most widely accessible in grocery stores and at farmers’ markets. When shopping for fresh Brussels sprouts, Sassos recommends that you look for ones that are firm, compact and bright green. If you don’t see them stocked in the produce section during the spring or summer, head over to the frozen food section where you’ll likely find them there. Frozen Brussels sprouts pack just as much nutrition, if not more, as fresh ones because they are frozen when at their peak nutritional value.
Brussels Sprouts Nutrition Stats
According to the USDA, here’s what you’ll get per 1-cup serving of raw Brussels sprouts:
- 38 calories
- 3 g protein
- 0 g total fat
- 8 g carbohydrates
- 3 g fiber
- 37 mg calcium
- 75 mg vitamin C
- 55 µg folate
- 664 IU vitamin A
- 156 µg vitamin K
Health benefits of Brussels sprouts
1. They’re good for your gut.
“Brussels sprouts are high in fiber, which can promote digestive regularity,” says Rifkin. She explains that eating fiber-rich foods, like Brussels sprouts, is important because it increases stool frequency and alleviates constipation. A full 95 percent of people in the U.S. don’t eat enough fiber. (You want to aim for between 19 and 38 grams per day, depending on your age and gender.) High-fiber foods like this veggie can help close that gap.
2. They may reduce the risk of digestive disorders.
Besides helping to keep your bowel movements regular, eating fibrous foods is linked with lowering the risk of digestive health issues, Rifkin says. One scientific article published in the journal Pharmaceutics says that regularly eating Brassica oleracea foods (the veggie family Brussels sprouts is part of) is linked to lowering the risk of gastrointestinal cancers.
3. They can support the immune system.
While citrus fruits often hog the spotlight when it comes to immunity-supporting foods, Brussels sprouts also help the body in this way because they’re high in vitamin C, says Sassos. In fact, one cup of raw Brussels sprouts has 75 milligrams of vitamin C, the full recommended daily amount for women.
4. They’re good for your heart.
Here’s a sobering fact: Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. The good news is that it’s a health condition that’s largely preventable through diet and lifestyle habits — including regularly eating Brussels sprouts. “Adequate fiber intake has been shown to improve blood lipids, like cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of heart disease,” Rifkin says. She adds that fiber intake has also been shown to improve blood sugar control, which can reduce the risk of heart disease as well.
5. They’re good for your eyes.
If you were asked to name foods that support eye health, you’d likely name carrots first. And carrots do help vision health, but Sassos says that Brussels sprouts deserve a mention as well. “The vitamin A in Brussels sprouts can promote healthy vision and cell growth,” she says. In addition to vitamin A, the veggie also provides lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that are critical for eye health.
6. They may help protect against certain cancers.
Certain foods are associated with a lower risk, and Sassos says that Brussels sprouts are one of them. “There is promising research that indicates a link between cruciferous vegetable consumption and cancer prevention,” she says. “According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, compounds in cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts have the potential to stave off cancer cells by bolstering antioxidant and DNA defenses and promoting healthy cell signaling.”
7. They’re good for your bones.
When most people think of calcium, they think of foods like yogurt and milk. While they are good sources of the nutrient, you can add Brussels sprouts to the list of foods that are good for your bones. Brussels sprouts have not one but two nutrients that can help with bone health: calcium and vitamin K. “Vitamin K activates proteins necessary for the bone formation and mineralization processes,” says Rifkin.
8. They may lower the risk of birth defects.
If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely heard how important it is to get enough folate, a nutrient Brussels sprouts have in spades. “A folate deficiency in a pregnant person could lead to birth defects, including in the brain and spine,” Rifkin says. But she emphasizes that it’s important for everyone to consume folate regularly, whether they’re pregnant or not. “Folate plays many roles in the body, including in the formation, health and function of red blood cells,” she says. She adds that certain forms of anemia can be caused by a folate deficiency.
9. They support brain health.
Scientific studies have shown that the glucosinolates (a natural compound) in Brussels sprouts support brain health, helping to protect against brain diseases. Researchers say this is because the glucosinolates help protect against inflammation, which can lead to chronic diseases and tumor growth. This means that regularly eating Brussels sprouts — along with other glucosinolate-containing foods like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower — is good for your brain.
10. They may help support healthy weight loss.
Brussels sprouts are loaded with nutrients — but not calories. If one of your health goals is to lose weight, adding Brussels sprouts to your meals can help because they’re low-calorie yet filling.
With all of these benefits, you may be wondering if it’s okay to eat Brussels sprouts every single day. Rifkin’s expert opinion is that it’s safe to do so, but you also want to make sure you’re eating other nutrient-rich foods too. “Variety is an important aspect of well-rounded nutrition, and eating the same food daily may not lead to the widest range of nutrient intake,” she says.
If you aren’t used to eating a lot of high-fiber foods, Rifkin recommends upping your Brussels sprouts intake slowly: Overloading the digestive system when it’s not used to fibrous foods could result in gas, bloating and digestive issues. Also keep in mind that cooking your Brussels sprouts makes them easier to digest rather than eating them raw. “That said, there is no downside to eating Brussels sprouts daily as long as you include variety elsewhere in your diet and do not experience digestive discomfort with the frequent intake,” she says.
How to cook Brussels sprouts
Even if you know all their nutritional benefits, if you don’t know how to make Brussels sprouts taste yummy, you aren’t likely to incorporate them into your diet. “Brussels sprouts can be very strong in flavor and smelly when overcooked, so don’t overdo it,” say Sassos.
If you don’t like the taste of steamed Brussels sprouts, Sassos recommends cooking them another way, such as in the air fryer or by roasting. She also says that the leaves cook quicker than the core, so she recommends halving or quartering them when roasting or cutting an “X” into the bottom of the stem if you’re blanching them whole. Don’t forget to add your favorite spices; as with any food, seasoning is key.
On the hunt for some Brussels sprouts recipes to try? Check out some of our Test Kitchen’s favorite recipes, like mushroom and Brussels sprouts pizza or roasted cherry chicken with Parmesan Brussels sprouts. They’ll both have everyone around your table licking their plate clean.
Not every food that takes over the wellness world is worth the hype, but Brussels sprouts are worth adding to your regular veggie rotation. However you incorporate it into your meals, you’ll be benefiting your entire body: brain, heart and gut included.
Emily is a freelance writer and certified health coach who specializes in writing about mental health, fitness, healthy food, and social justice issues. Emily spent six years as an editor and writer at Well+Good, covering everything from food trends to serious issues like the opioid crisis in America and gun violence. She has also worked at Seventeen, Elle, and Twist magazines. She regularly writes for publications including Forbes, Parade, Shape, and The Huffington Post. Emily lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her cat Evie.
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